Top Ten JRPG Playable Character Tropes

Japanese role-playing games have traditionally been associated with complex storylines, linear plots, and a cast of colorful characters. Of course, there’s a limited amount of time for character development in a video game, and developers will often use familiar character types to quickly establish who everybody is and how they will fit into the group dynamic. When I play these types of games, I always try to pick out who is playing which role (no pun intended) and decided to make my own top ten list of the most common tropes that I’ve seen.

Keep in mind that all of my examples come from JRPGs that I’ve played and am already familiar with. Also, these are just my opinions and are not necessarily meant to be criticisms of these games, although some of them definitely do a better job of character development than others.

10. The Tomboy
Examples: Aika – Skies of Arcadia, Penelo – Final Fantasy XII, Lucca – Chrono Trigger

Description: What male hero wouldn’t like to have a beautiful friend since childhood who can be one of the guys and has nursed a secret crush on him all this time? Pigtails are not required, but they don’t seem to hurt.

9. The Demure Female
Examples: Yuna – Final Fantasy X, Fina – Skies of Arcadia, Sophia – Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

Description: With all this killing and looting of monsters, every party of adventurers needs a softer, gentler side. Bonus points if she’s pretty and can cast healing spells.

8. The Perky One
Examples: Oerba Dia Vanille – Final Fantasy XIII, Rikku – Final Fantasy X, Jansen – Lost Odyssey

Description: Lest we forget we’re playing a game, this character will always be around to make jokes and generally try to lighten the mood of any setting, regardless of how serious the situation really is. You do realize nearly everything here is trying to kill us, don’t you?

7. The Overly-Sexed Character
Examples: Queen Ming –Lost Odyssey, Fran – Final Fantasy XII, Vashyron – Resonance of Fate

Description: Is the objectification of women, either through costume or attitude, significant enough to be a major character trait? Maybe. Do we need it to enjoy great gameplay and an engaging storyline? No. No we don’t.

6. The Old Person
Examples: Sazh Katzroy – Final Fantasy XIII, Auron – Final Fantasy X, Eldore – White Knight Chronicles

Description: When nearly every playable character is 17, just being in your early thirties could qualify someone for this trope. Of course, since everyone performs exactly the same, the only way we can tell that one of the characters is slightly older is if they mention it. Over and over and over.

5. The Child
Examples: Peppita Rossetti and Roger S. Huxley – Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Cooke and Mack – The Last Odyssey, Hope Estheim – Final Fantasy XIII

Description: How do you explain an eleven year old who can kill dozens of trained soldiers and/or ferocious monsters? “The needs of the story.” That’s how.

4. The Tourist
Examples: Tidus – Final Fantasy X, Leonard and Yunie – White Knight Chronicles, Fayt Leingod – Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

Description: We all know that dialogue is one of the easiest ways to give exposition. Result? We get a character that knows absolutely nothing about the world around them, regardless of whether they’re a native or not.

3. The Tour Guide
Examples: Fran – Final Fantasy XII, Eldore – White Knight Chronicles, Cliff – Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

Description: What’s a tourist without a guide? This inevitably helpful character is always ready to give the player a brief description of a location, magic system, or type of monster. Fluency in mystical languages carved into ruins is a plus.

2. The Brooder
Examples: Auron – Final Fantasy X, Basche – Final Fantasy XII, Captain Drachma – Skies of Arcadia, Kaim – Lost Odyssey

Description: Every team needs a man or woman of mystery. Someone with a tragic past, a dark backstory. Someone who will offset the obnoxious jokes of the Perky One.

1. The Bland Protagonist
Examples: Chrono – Chrono Trigger, Fayt – Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Edge Maverick – Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Leonard – White Knight Chronicles, etc. etc. etc.

Description: I get it. It’s hard to make the player feel like they are the hero in a game where they have no direct control over the protagonist’s personality. Nearly every JRPG that I’ve played solves this problem by giving the hero as little personality as possible. While they may have other dialogue, it always seems like most of their vocabulary is based on three themes, “Whoa!” “Huh?” and, of course, “NOOOOOOOOO!” Oh well. At least we have this colorful cast surrounding him…

 

Did you think of another example of someone falling into one of these tropes in your favorite JRPG? Leave a comment below and we’ll see how many we can list!

Thanks to Raven Oaks for giving me the idea for this blog post.

Storyline Review for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

I thought I’d review the storyline of a game that I have played all the way through multiple times. Keep in mind that this review will be focusing on elements of storytelling such as character development and plot structure, rather than gameplay elements or gamer hints. Today I’ll be talking about Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, an action shooter and the first game in the Uncharted series from developer Naughty Dog Studios.

Premise

Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter and lovable scoundrel, is following in the footsteps of his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake, to try to find the legendary El Dorado. He follows the trail to a former Spanish colony on an island in the southern Atlantic only to find it swarming with modern-day pirates and a centuries-old curse that could threaten the entire world if he can’t stop it.

Review

The Uncharted series has always been ambitious in its storytelling. The developers have said that their inspiration came from the pulp adventure movies of the early 20th century, the same type of movies that inspired the Indiana Jones character and series. What’s different about Nathan Drake is that he is cast as a sort of exceptional everyman, a likable guy who does amazing things but never loses his relatability. Drake is funny without being snarky, heroic without being an action figure. As I played Nathan Drake, I found myself drawn to his crooked smile and emotional honesty in a way that almost never happens for me in video games.

The rest of the cast is equally well developed. Drake’s friend and mentor, Sully, feels more like your fun uncle than the stereotypical wise old advisor. The story’s love interest, Elena, also feels realistic, with equal parts plucky courage and empathetic vulnerability. Even the villains, who don’t get very much screen time, are interesting and fun in a James Bond Villain kind of way, alternating between witty banter and cat-and-mouse sadism.

The development of the plot is a fine balance of gameplay elements that alternate the player between third-person shooting, platforming, puzzles, and cut-scenes. All of these elements play a role in developing the story, and the game never feels like it’s filling up time or padding the experience. Of course, as in nearly all games, the player is required to have a greater suspension of disbelief than would be required for a novel or most movies, but fans of this type of game should expect and appreciate the epic firefights and elaborate puzzles as a part of the overall experience.

It should be noted that this game’s story is very linear, with no player control over the plot or character decisions. The style can best be described as an interactive thematic experience, with the player taking over for anything involving action or problem solving, and leaving the sequence of events to the developers. While this may be a turnoff to gamers who prefer a branching storyline with multiple endings, I preferred the single, well-crafted plot with its balanced pacing, character development, and foreshadowing.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a game that pulls the gamer in with a well-crafted Conflict/Resolution Pattern and engaging characters as opposed to reality-blurring gamer input. I would recommend this game to anyone who has ever watched a summer blockbuster and wanted to play along with the movie, rather than change it to suit their own style. For me, as a lover of great stories that are well-told, this game is one of my all-time favorites.

Storyline Review for Marvel: Ultimate Alliance

Marvel: Ultimate AllianceI wasn’t going to do this review. I told myself that I shouldn’t do a video game storyline review for the first real article of my new blog home. But eventually I realized that this is a great way to introduce new fans to the sort of content that interests me. Honestly, when it comes to my own entertainment I’m more of a gamer than a reader, and I enjoy analyzing the storylines that I encounter while gaming. Besides, I like to think that I’m covering some ground that most other video game reviewers miss by focusing on the storyline rather than the mechanics in a game. That being said, let’s take a look at one of my favorite action RPGs, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.

Premise

Dr. Doom has gathered some of the world’s most powerful super-villains in an attempt to (what else?) rule the world. To combat these Masters of Evil, Nick Fury and SHIELD have assembled earth’s mightiest heroes to help. The battle rages across a variety of locations, including the SHIELD helicarrier, Mephisto’s realm, Atlantis, Asgard, and the Skrull home-world. Will the heroes win, or will Doom succeed in his nefarious quest?

Review

The first thing you need to know about this game is that it doesn’t take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The game was released in 2006, just two years before Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man changed the face of superhero movies. As a result, the characters in this game are perhaps some of the last iterations that are faithful adaptations of the comics with no influences from the movies. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Tony Stark is bland. Captain America is a humorless hard-nose. Loki is a prancing  doofus. Only Deadpool has any character at all, and even he is going to seem very mild to people expecting to see something closer to Ryan Reynolds’ signature style. Even worse, most of the dialogue in the game is written from a generic POV. Aside from a few comical mini-scenes and Easter eggs, nearly all of the dialogue is either droning exposition or hokey melodrama regardless of who is talking.

The plot isn’t much better. Dr. Doom’s plan is a convoluted mess, forcing your characters to go on a massive scavenger hunt from one random location to another. While this allows for some interesting set pieces, mostly it just feels like a lame excuse to showcase every marvel character that isn’t in the X-men or Spider-man franchises.

Those of you who remember my reactions to the storyline in Diablo 3 may think that I’m being too harsh on Ultimate Alliance. After all, this is an action RPG. The story doesn’t really matter, does it? Actually, it does. The reason why Diablo 3 worked was because it dropped the player into the midst of a vibrant, deadly world with little explanation beyond “Demons are killing people. Go do something about it!” The mistake Ultimate Alliance makes it over-explaining everything. Every hero (and there are around 20 of them) get multiple dialogues describing their origins, powers, and their bland reactions to the plot. Every villain gives a monologue about why they are superior to you before you battle them, and there are a lot of minor villains to go through. In short, the story in an action RPG is effective when it’s minimal, while Ultimate Alliance has ten-minute stretches of tedious dialogue every half-hour.

All of that being said, I would still recommend this game to superhero fans, especially those of you who are feeling nostalgic for Marvel before the MCU took over movie theaters around the world. Despite a few too many quick-time event boss fights, the game mechanics are overall very good and reflect the unique powers of each character well. But unless you’ve somehow never heard of Spider-man or Wolverine, don’t bother listening to their dialogue, as they have nothing interesting to say.